“Oh my God! They killed Rory! You b******!”
My friends, those are the words you would hear if South Park ever made a spoof of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who. But some would argue that Doctor Who is beginning to turn into a slight parody of South Park, with the aforementioned Rory Pond née Williams from the former series now having died enough times to compete with the hood-faced boy known as Kenny from the latter.
When Steven Moffat first made the announcement back in April that one of Doctor Who’s four leads – the Doctor, River, Amy, or of course, Rory – was going to be handing his or her badge in to the Grim Reaper, our esteemed Grand Kasterborite Christian Cawley suggested that there might be decent odds that we would lose our favorite husband-of-a-ginger. This notion was proven incorrect after the broadcast of The Impossible Astronaut, but you can’t blame anyone for having believed in the theory. After all, he had already died and come back more than once before, so who was to say it couldn’t happen again?
Which leads us to one of the big debates in the Who fandom these days: how many times can you kill off the same character before his or her death becomes meaningless? In Series 5 alone we saw the Doctor and Amy both killed and brought back, and since he’s been introduced Rory’s died at least three dozen times.
Okay, so 36 Rory deaths might be a slight truth-stretch, but just how many times has the man met his fate? After pondering on that question for a little while, I came up with the following list of all the occasions in which the writers have attempted to lead us to believe that Rory’s gone for good.
- Amy’s Choice – The first glimpse we got of Rory’s demise was technically in a dream, but we weren’t sure of that at the time. All we knew was that if it wasn’t a dream, what an awful way to go – breath from an old person! This wouldn’t have been the first instance in Doctor Who of a second companion brought on board one episode only to be written out in the next – remember Adam from the Eccleseries? He never died, but his very removal from the show justified the argument that could have been made immediately after Rory was vaporized – that this was the last we would ever see of this nervous boyfriend sidekick.
- Cold Blood – So here we were, happy to see Rory back after we thought he might be dead in the previous story, only to see him killed off for real at the climax of the Doctor and company’s journey to the center of the Earth. Darn you Doctor; you just had to pull that shrapnel from the crack and give Restac time to shoot at you and hit Rory, didn’t you?
- Cold Blood – Hold on, didn’t we just mention that episode? Shortly after being shot down by a lizard and removed from life, Rory was swallowed up by a crack in time and removed from existence completely, and Amy’s memories specifically, which arguably counts as a second death within minutes of his first.
- The Big Bang – Like the rest of the story, this one’s a bit tough to get your head around. As I interpreted the story, the Doctor flew the Pandorica into the sun-like TARDIS and brought about Big Bang Two, which destroyed everything throughout all of time in the universe as we knew it, which included Auton Rory. It all happened fairly quickly in the actual episode, but a new universe brought on by a new Big Bang would take billions of years to form a new Earth, and another 4.6 billion years to spawn a new Rory, whose memories of his 2,000 years of life prior to Big Bang Two all came back after Amy remembered the Doctor. Perhaps I’m looking at it the wrong way round, but again, as we all know, it’s an extremely confusing story!
- Day of the Moon – We were given a bit of a break from Rory deaths for a little while after the Series 5 finale, but come episode two of the current run, we were treated to a rather amazing sequence at the beginning that included Rory being shot down on top of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona by Canton and his crew… or so we thought.
- The Curse of the Black Spot – Captain Avery’s son was dematerialized – “Just how much is that treasure worth to you man?!” – and suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Rory gets knocked off the ship and into the sea. And then, just to top it off, the Doctor, rather than diving in after him, sends the Siren to go and fetch him instead. So if he hadn’t drowned before, he was certainly a goner now, right?
- The Curse of the Black Spot – Okay, so it turns out the Siren’s a medical practitioner, not a deadly ocean-beast feeding on pirates. All Amy has to do is stick her hand in the consent form and voila! A Rory she has no idea how to save! As he lies on the TARDIS floor, we’re led to believe for a moment that Rory is finally, once and for all, dead. For all we know, even looking back on it, he could have been. It certainly doesn’t appear to have been any of Amy’s efforts that got him breathing again. Could there be have been intervention from an unknown third party?
In my book that’s seven – count ‘em seven – times Rory’s seemed to be dead now. That debate I mentioned before is really making sense now; is the concept of death in Doctor Who becoming watered down and meaningless? Perhaps, but I have another question in mind: did the concept of death in Doctor Who ever have any meaning to begin with?
How many instances have there been where a main character was killed off and then brought back? This could be a long list. First of all there’s the Master, who has returned from permanent death an almost uncountable number of times in both the classic and modern ages of the show. Then we have Jack Harkness, who’s died so many times they had to make a spinoff series just to fit them all in! Peri Brown’s another example; it was hard not to feel shocked at her gruesome fate in the middle of The Trial of a Time Lord, and yet it was somewhat disappointing to learn at the end of the season that her body hadn’t been possessed by a Mentor after all. And must we even mention the Doctor, whose constant dying-and-undying have kept the whole show going since 1963?
Now, how many instances have there been where a main character was killed off and stayed dead? Hmm… Adric. Anyone else? Oh! Kamelion. But he doesn’t count, he’s a robot. There may be more lead persona bucket-kickings than those that I’m not aware of; I won’t even begin to suggest that I’ve seen all there is to see of the classic series. And of course, in almost every episode, there’s the random extra in the background who gets devoured by a giant bat or something similar, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that more often than not, we’ve only encountered pretend deaths of the TARDIS crew and others we’ve seen a lot of.
Has death in Doctor Who ever had any real meaning long-term? Not really. If the production crew murdered a companion every season in a family program, it would be too depressing! We wouldn’t want to scare off the children, would we?